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Jun 9, 2021
This article is part of a series called COVID-19 Coverage.

Hybrid working, when employees work in the office some days and remotely on others, is one of the most contentious decisions currently facing leaders. With companies like Apple and Google adopting versions of hybrid work and others like JPMorgan Chase & Co. determined to fully bring people back to the office, there isn’t a clear consensus or perfect answer.

There is, however, a vital question your company has to answer before it makes a determination: What’s the rationale behind your decision? 

I know this seems like a ridiculously obvious and simple question; yet it’s one that companies are shockingly bad at asking and answering.

The Reason for Having a Reason

In the Leadership IQ study, “Resistance to Change in Organizations Comes From These 5 Factors,” we discovered that only 15% of employees always understand the rationale behind their organization’s strategy. And a whopping 40% never or rarely understand the rationale.

Companies are quite good at issuing edicts like, “we’re all coming back to the office” or “everyone can work from home two days a week.” But most organizations struggle to explain the rationale behind those strategies and decisions.

If you’re wondering whether explaining your rationale truly matters, ponder this statistic: 24% of employees’ support for your change is driven by whether they understand the rationale behind it. If you explain your rationale, they’ll support you, and if you don’t, they won’t.

Understanding the rationale behind a strategy is especially important when that strategy is hybrid working. Do you want to specify which days employees can work from home or leave it to them to choose? Do you want people in the office two, three, or four days per week? How you configure a hybrid work strategy will largely depend on the rationale behind your desire to go hybrid.

For example, imagine that your rationale for hybrid working is to offer a more compelling pitch to recruit new talent. In the study “The State Of Working From Home,” we learned that 23% of employees want to work from home all the time, and 39% want to work from home three to four days per week. And stories abound of candidates telling recruiters that they won’t take a job that doesn’t allow for at least a few days of working remotely. If this is your rationale, giving employees some choice over which days they’re in the office may be necessary.  

Now imagine that your rationale for hybrid working is that you discovered during the pandemic that people were more productive from home but collaboration suffered. In this case, you’ll want your team to stay remote sometimes but come into the office on specific days for collaborative activities like meetings, brainstorming sessions, etc. Not only will you have to mandate office days, you’ll also probably have to reconfigure your office layout. For instance, you might have to knock down some walls to reduce the number of private offices in favor of more meeting rooms.

You would also need to consider whether the collaboration you’re seeking is within or across departments. If it’s within departments, then each unit could potentially set its own office days. But if the needed collaboration is cross-functional, then more widespread coordination across departments will be required.

What if your rationale for going hybrid is to accommodate employees’ challenges with childcare or caring for family members? In this case, you might benefit more from flexible work schedules than from having set days in or out of the office.

Forget the Fads

None of these rationales for hybrid working are better or worse than the others, but each one requires a different implementation. The point is that before you can issue an edict about hybrid working, you need to think carefully about why you’re doing it and understand your rationale.

The one thing you shouldn’t do is mimic Apple’s or Google’s approaches to hybrid working just because you respect those companies. Nor should you eschew a hybrid model simply because that’s what JPMorgan Chase & Co. is doing. There’s a lot of faddishness in management, and even though hybrid working is likely a smart approach, some companies are caught up in the buzz without much analysis.

The problem with getting caught up in the faddish aspects is that hybrid working can be implemented so differently and for so many different reasons that there really isn’t a common definition or operational rollout. Even a seemingly small difference, like choosing the days that people are in the office, can have radically dissimilar effects on your employees’ engagement and productivity. Likewise, choosing the wrong model of hybrid working might deliver zero benefits or even anger your workforce.

That’s why before you implement anything, pause and dive deep into your rationale for wanting hybrid work. Once you know why you’re doing it, the majority of your implementation questions will be answered.

This article is part of a series called COVID-19 Coverage.
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